Maybe you’ve suffered a pang of conscience and have sworn off eating meat. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac’s disease and have to stick to a gluten-free diet, or are taking a month off booze and cheese and swapping it out for yoga and a macrobiotic diet. Whatever your reason, if you’re avoiding certain foods, dining out can become a daunting experience.
You don’t have to be a shut-in, or sit at dinner sipping tea while everyone else chows down if you have a restricted diet, at least not in Brooklyn. We live in a borough that not only emphasizes diversity and quality in its cuisine but also is sensitive to those more judicious about what they eat. Below are our picks for a range of dietary restrictions ranging from vegan to gluten-free to kosher, with a special section for restaurants that will please the dietary conscious while satisfying more indulgent diners.
Fast service and flavorful fare are what you’ll find at the Brooklyn location of ‘SNice (315 3rd Street, Park Slope, 718-788-2121), the Manhattan-based health-conscious café chain. The menu — written in multiple hues on a large chalk board — consists of creatively crafted sandwiches and salads, like the brie, pear and arugula sandwich that comes garnished with raspberry mustard, or the quinoa salad (our favorite), whose black beans, sweet corn and grapes tomatoes are lightly coated with an avocado dressing. The light let in by the café’s two full walls of windows makes for a pleasant dine-in experience, while a call-in-and-pick-up option allows you to eat healthy at home. And don’t forget dessert: The vegan cupcakes (we recommend the chocolate) are so rich you’ll want to split them with a friend.
The V-Spot (156 5th Avenue, Park Slope, 718-622-2275) offers something for everyone on its animal-free menu, from Asian appetizers (nori rolls, edamame) to Latin entrees (Bandeja paisa) to a Philly cheesesteak hero made with soy steak and vegan cheese. The menu also caters to patrons with food allergies, clearly noting which items contain cashews, and which (like the quinoa pasta and corn tortillas) are gluten free. We tried the delicious tofu Thai curry — served with gingered quinoa, kale, and chickpeas — and couldn’t stop ourselves from wolfing it down, giant portion and all.
Even though our borough abounds in healthy eateries, it’s still hard to find one that avoids refined sugar (or, rather, avoids refined sugar while still offering mainstream fare). Enter Bliss (191 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, 718-599-2547), a homey café with a college-town vibe that uses maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and fruit juice to sweeten its vegan-friendly fare. We tried their maple syrup-sweetened organic homemade lemonade and found the combination of flavors, while a bit on the tart side, to be surprisingly refreshing. Bliss’s menu favors simple mixtures of vegetarian staples like brown rice, whole wheat wraps, grilled tempeh, a plenitude of fresh veggies that ensure you’ll leave feeling healthier than you did when you sat down.
Billing itself as a “holistic eco-eatery,” Sun In Bloom (460 Bergen Street, Park Slope, 718-622-4303) seeks to nourish its diners , both body and soul, via healthy, vegan dishes prepared in a sustainable fashion. The menu here is fairly basic — many of the items are raw, and most are some variant on a wrap, burrito, or salad — but that doesn’t mean it’s not tasty. The live sauerkraut in our Renewal Macro Bowl added a tangy zest to the dish’s standard rice-beans-veggie combo, while our freshly made greens juice, tasting strongly of cool cucumbers, quenched our thirst on a hot Indian summer evening.
The quiet that pervades Rockin’ Raw (178 North 8th Street, Williamsburg, 718-599-9333), located just off the bustling hubbub of Bedford Avenue, is just as unexpected as this cozy eatery’s menu. Along with such raw-food staples as pasta made of thin zucchini spirals, Rockin’ Raw offers surprises like a live po’ boy sandwich (served on sprouted Essene bread) or Tacu Tacu (accompanied by a vegetable-based “fried egg”) inspired by the New Orleanian and Peruvian backgrounds of its owners. Not just for adventurous diners, Rockin’ Raw is suitable for those with multiple dietary concerns; the restaurant uses agave and coconut instead of refined sweeteners and indicates which items on its 100 percent gluten-free menu contain nuts. Its romantic, tree-filled back garden, replete with twinkling white lights, makes it a great date place as well.
Brooklyn still doesn’t have the equivalent of Manhattan’s Slice or Pala which offer extensive gluten-free versions of pizza and other Italian food, but our borough can boast to having a 100 percent dedicated gluten-free bakery, thanks to Everybody Eats (294 3rd Avenue, Park Slope, 718-369-7444). The bakery makes and sells a variety of gluten-free breads, from baguettes to challah to your basic sandwich loafs, as well as frozen pizzas and ravioli, cookies, brownies, and party cakes made to order. Everybody Eats doesn’t have an actual storefront, but their goodies can be picked up at their kitchen Monday through Friday, as long as you call in your order ahead of time; they also serve walk-in customers on Saturdays.
There’s quite a concentration of kosher restaurants deep into the borough, see this comprehensive list, but for something closer to Brownstone Brooklyn, try Olga’s on Smith (407 Smith Street, Cobble Hill, 347-335-0981). This small but sleek deli offers both dairy and non-dairy items, for both takeout and dine-in. We recommend the paninis and salads, prepared fresh on the premises, although our gingered salmon, stored salad-bar-style behind the counter, was still moist upon reheating and came with heaping sides of roasted potatoes and garlicky broccoli.
Surprisingly Dietary-Restriction Friendly
What to do if one member of your party eats vegetarian or gluten-free while the rest of you don’t? We found several restaurants that, while not specifically geared toward those with dietary concerns, can still accommodate them. Bogota Latin Bistro (141 5th Avenue, Park Slope, 718-230-3805) marks which items on its Columbian-inspired menu are vegetarian, wheat free, and gluten free, while Scottadito Osteria Tuscana (788A Union St, Park Slope, 718-636-4800) now offers a gluten-free penne entree on its scrumptious pasta menu. Farther north, Brooklyn Label (180 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, 718-389-2806) gladly swaps out ingredients, like sausage gravy for mushroom gravy or cream for soy milk, to accommodate vegetarian and vegan patrons. Even some meat-centric restaurants proved unexpectedly veggie friendly: A vegan friend raved to us about both Lodge (318 Grand, Williamsburg, 718-486-9400), which offers a veggie burger among its many beef and fish dishes and a tofu veggie scramble for brunch, and Diner (85 Broadway, Williamsburg, 718-486-3077) which offers meat-free pancakes and omelettes for brunch and vegetarian soups and meal-sized salads for lunch. Check out our previous eating out guide for vegetarians, too.